The sheer amount of passionate artists and talent in this community is enough to fill hundreds of pages, and we can only wish we had enough to showcase them all. We talked to a handful of visual artists and those deeply involved with local organizations and galleries to highlight their unique roles in the growing art scene, and to find out why the arts are so important for our community.
SHEER ART ATTACK
Photos by Paul Flessland and Catie Miller
Local ceramicist and Fargo native Catie Miller hunched over the pottery wheel, dipped her hands in a bucket of water to wet the clay and proceeded to shape it into an elongated cylinder.
Every slight movement of her hands completely reshaped the piece. As she pinched the edges of the cylinder, she warped it into a gourd-like vase.
Miller’s hands moved effortlessly and almost instinctively. She’s lived and breathed art for so long that creating has now become second nature.
“I’ve been drawing and making things my whole life,” she said. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an artist.”
When Miller was young, she would draw Disney characters found on VHS movie sleeves. As she got older, Miller jumped from medium to medium, trying anything she could get her hands on.
“When I was a kid, I felt like every weekend I’d go to my grandpa with a project,” she said. “He was a maker and could make anything out of wood. I would be like, ‘OK, grandpa, this is what I want to build.’ He’d then teach me how to make it. That really encouraged me to build things with my hands.”
Now, she takes one of the most abundant resources, clay, and creates malleable material objects—both utilitarian and decorative.
Originally interested primarily in drawing and painting while in high school, Miller was able to explore her passion by registering for art classes and working at Clay Your Way, painting hundreds of example pieces for the store. Her art teacher and mentor in high school and college was well-known local ceramicist Brad Bachmeier, whose pottery classes introduced her to clay’s potential and inspired her to explore the possibilities of ceramics.
Sundae Bowls, 6.5″ x 5″ x 4.5″
“In this area, it’s one thing to say, ‘Oh, there are tons of people in the world making a living as an artist,’ but to see someone in your own community living as a successful artist is inspiring,” Miller said. “Seeing him as an educator and run his own ceramic business, he definitely became a role model.”
While in high school, Miller came to recognize that art could become a sustainable vocation, one that she was clearly passionate about. After graduation, Miller attended Minnesota State University Moorhead and dual majored in art education and ceramics with the intention to become an art teacher.
“I wanted to be an art teach because I love learning different mediums and being able to teach it to students,” she said.
The longer she did ceramics, the more Miller realized she can incorporate the skills she learned from other artistic techniques onto her ceramic artwork.
“In college, they do portfolio reviews and a couple of the professors asked, ‘You don’t really want to be an art teacher do you?’ And I said, ‘Yes I do. Teaching is my plan A. I do want to be an art teacher.’ And by the time I was done with my ceramics degree, I realized I really wanted to be an artist,” she said.
After graduating in 2013, she accepted a two-year long artist residency at Red Star Studios in Kansas City. As a resident, she worked as the educational programing manager, where she coordinated kids and adult classes. But her primary job was to make artwork.
Shot in the Night, 21” x 18” x 3″ | “This platter illustrates the pursuit of luck through the capture of the lucky jackal. Although you can’t see a jackal’s horn, it’s believed they appear during full moons. If captured, the horn is used as a lucky charm or amulet. Behind the jackal illustration, greens and golds reference the background illustrations on a dollar bill. Overall, the piece is an narrative of the pursuit for wealth and fortune.”
“It was really helpful to bounce your ideas off of other artists, even those who don’t specialize in your medium,” Miller said.
After her residency, she moved back to Fargo and began managing the Plains Art Museum’s educational program. Last June, she quit to become a fulltime artist.
“Ceramics is a hard thing to just start up and do, because there are a lot of equipment costs,” she said. “Anytime I could buy something I did. I thought of it as investing in myself and my medium.”
Floral Fruit Bowl, 7” x 10” x 9.75”
But she couldn’t give up teaching completely. Miller still volunteers at the Plains Art Museum and hosts art classes at Unglued, a local gift shop in Downtown Fargo that features artists’ work and crafts.
“I’m trying to focus on having my own business and I love it so far, but it’s just really fun doing things outside of ceramics,” she said.
Through her Unglued classes, Miller gets to utilize her diverse skills in different mediums, hosting a variety of classes from painting to Beyoncé cross stitching. Miller said she thinks she will always teach classes for the community in some capacity.
Miller has fused her love for drawing, painting and ceramic to form what is her style today. She paints illustrations varying from narrative scenes to seamlessly repeated patterns. Similar to a monoprint process, she then transfers the painting from newsprint to clay with underglaze and colored slips. This method results in a diverse representation of her paintings, creating a timely, aged and weathered appearance on the red clay foundation.
“The process I do is a printmaking process, it’s kind of like a temporary tattoo,” Miller said with a laugh. The images she draws are graphic, simplified depictions of realism with emblematic patterning. “I’m an object maker, so I’m interested in this idea of how objects hold meaning,” she said. “One reason people have objects is for luck.”
Bed of Anemones, 18” x 21” x 3″ | “This platter illustrates the pursuit of luck through the capture of the lucky rabbit. In some folklore, it’s believed that you must find a white rabbit at midnight, in a graveyard and shoot it with a silver bullet. The rabbit lies on top a bed of anemone flowers and next to a gun and bullet casing. Below, the lucky rabbit foot dangles off the platter from a gold chain.”
While exploring the belief in luck, hunting and ultimately the pursuit, she continually examines the basis of human motivations and superstition. Miller is currently obsessed with the idea that people would have a momentum that they carry around with them with the belief that it’s lucky.
“I draw lucky rabbit feet a lot,” she said. “There is this pattern of all these lucky rabbit feet but I don’t think you would really know they were unless you’d look closely.” Miller said that when working with functional ceramics, you have to think about what it would be used for, too.
Baited Temptation, 9″ x 14″ x 5″ | “Camouflaged in floral motifs, two weaving snakes make their way throughout the surface—a reference to temptation in the Garden of Eden. On top of the base, five removable cones rest in place. The creative functions of this unique piece are nearly endless. It makes a great sculptural centerpiece. The removable center cones allow the user to fill it with flowers, ice cream, trail mix, cotton candy, potpourri, snacks and the list goes on.”
“I create an assortment of functional ceramics, some more fun than functional,” Miller said. Her favorite piece, “Baited Temptation,” features an ice cream stand with five cones. It’s then decorated with a floral camouflage pattern but hidden within the flowers are snakes.
“The idea of it is that you’d have ice cream in all these cones and then suddenly notice there are snakes weaving in and out of the flowers,” Miller said. “It represents temptation.”
Importance Of Local Art
When Miller returned home from Kansas City, she wanted to bring more awareness of lcoal ceramic artists in Fargo-Moorhead. She then teamed up with other artists to form a ceramics group called the Cone Pack. It consists of six ceramicists with a shared vision to create a contemporary clay community in the Fargo-Moorhead region. Through two to three events per year, the group tries to educate the community on the importance of local ceramics.
“It was a way to introduce ceramics to the community and let people know that they can buy homemade dishes and support local businesses,” she said. Miller only purchases locally-made plates, bowls and cups as a way to support other artists. She places the dishes on shelves in the dining room, which then serve as decoration and are also functional.
Pitcher, 12″ x 8″ x 7.5″
“Some of them are made by friends, so when I use them I think of that person. Others are from people I admire or pieces I found and fell in love with,” she said. “You don’t always pick the same cup or plate every morning, it all depends on your mood.”
Miller believes it’s more important now than ever to be an artist. She said art gives people a voice and an opportunity to communicate their point of view to the community.
“The arts bring culture to our world, and without the arts, our world would be dull,” she said. “The biggest role of an artist is to enrich the community.”
When asked about advise for other artists, Miller said, “Being an artist is really difficult. It’s extremely hard, but it’s worth it. I love my job. I could work all day, every day and it doesn’t even feel like work.”
For More Information:
Find Miller’s Work You can find pieces by Miller in Fargo at Revland Gallery, Unglued and Cone Pack events. In May, she will have a solo exhibit titled “Root” at the Rourke Art Museum. You can also purchase her work on Etsy at etsy.com/shop/ catiemillerceramics.